Why Using Chemical Restraints Can Be Considered a Form of Nursing Home Abuse

Why Using Chemical Restraints Can Be Considered a Form of Nursing Home AbuseAn important factor in evaluating nursing homes is when and how the staff in the facility uses restraints on certain residents. Although these restraints are sometimes necessary, they are too often overused for the convenience of the facility rather than the health of the residents. It is important to understand the signs and risks involved with their unnecessary use.

What are chemical restraints?

Rather than physical restraints, the chemical restraints often used in nursing homes and other facilities are psychopharmacological drugs. These medications can affect an individual’s thinking, sensations, and overall behavior. They act as a sedative to quickly settle down an agitated or disturbed nursing home resident. However, their use also carries certain negative side effects that include:

  • Extreme sedation
  • Increased agitation
  • Diminished functioning
  • Distinct incoordination
  • Withdrawal
  • Memory loss
  • Greater risk of falling

If you notice a sudden manifestation of the above symptoms in your aging loved one, it is important to communicate directly with the manager or director of the nursing home facility. You may also consider consulting with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney.

Federal law and chemical restraints

Chemical restraints are designed to inhibit an individual’s ability to exercise freedom of movement and motion. Under federal law, administering chemical restraints on nursing home residents for reasons involving discipline or convenience is prohibited. The only time these medications may be prescribed and administered is when they are required for legitimate medical treatment.

Nursing homes should only use chemical restraints on residents under two narrow circumstances:

  • A written order from a doctor has been provided that specifically pinpoints the circumstances that qualify for its use and the prescribed duration of its use
  • The chemical restraint is required to ensure the safety of the resident and/or other residents

When an emergency situation arises that prevents nursing home staff from obtaining a written doctor’s order in a timely manner, exceptions may be allowed for the use of chemical restraints.

Chemical restraints on residents suffering from dementia

Although Medicare and Medicaid prohibit the use of psychopharmacological drugs in order to prevent or minimize disruptive behaviors and self-harming, the AARP reports that these facilities continue to administer these drugs to residents. These chemical restraints are intended only for minimizing the effects of mental illnesses.

However, nursing home personnel often administer chemical restraints to residents who suffer from dementia, despite the fact that these medications include black box warnings that alert staff not to administer the drugs to the elderly or those with dementia.

The AARP and the FDA agree that these medications are not beneficial for residents who suffer from dementia, and that they can increase health concerns and risks in these individuals, including the risk for stroke, falls, heart attack, diabetes, other catastrophic injury, or even possible death. If administered to an alert and active nursing home resident, these chemical restraints can leave that resident sluggish and unable to conduct daily activities properly, including feeding, bathing, dressing, and ambulating, in addition to socially interacting in a normal manner. This may qualify as a form of medical malpractice.

Filing a chemical restraint claim

You may have concerns over the safety and health of your loved one in a nursing home and the possibility that he or she has been subjected to dangerous chemical restraints. It is crucial to seek legal guidance and support from an experienced nursing home abuse attorney. Never ignore the signs of abuse in your loved one.

Please contact Paulson & Nace, PLLC through this contact form or by calling 202.463.1999.